Series: Highway 59 #1
A powerful thriller about the explosive intersection of love, race, and justice from a writer and producer of the Emmy winning Fox TV show Empire.
When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules--a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about growing up black in the lone star state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.
When his allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he travels up Highway 59 to the small town of Lark, where two murders--a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman--have stirred up a hornet's nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes--and save himself in the process--before Lark's long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.
A rural noir suffused with the unique music, color, and nuance of East Texas, Bluebird, Bluebird is an exhilarating, timely novel about the collision of race and justice in America.
This is actually a re-read for me. I listened to this book last year, and got really excited when I realized that the sequel was coming out. Then I realized that I remember the highlights of this book and the crime, but not much about Darren’s personal story or where we left him. And I knew I loved this book, so reading it again wasn’t exactly a hardship.
I think I liked it even more this time around. I really liked listening to it, and the narration was really good, but there was something about actually reading this that allowed me to sit on my couch, but be transported to Lark, TX. Attica Locke is so good at conveying atmosphere. I’m sitting here on my couch in January, and even so, I swear I could feel the Texas sun baking my skin. (To be fair, for some reason that’s definitely not climate change, it’s 72 degrees here on this random Saturday in January in the midwest, so maybe that’s what I’m feeling. Yes, that’s sarcasm)
Darren Mathews is a Texas Ranger, one of the very few black Texas Rangers. Currently suspended from duty because it’s suspected he helped a friend cover up a murder, he finds himself embroiled in a case anyway. Two people have been murdered in Lark, Texas. One black man was found drowned in the bayou, Michael Wright, a lawyer from Chicago who was passing through town, and a few days later a white woman named Missy Dale, a young, married local girl washes up in the same area. Michael and Missy were seen chatting in the days before their deaths, and Darren is immediately sure that the cases are related, and is equally sure that race plays a big part in the murders.
The local authorities are ready to sweep both murders under the rug with a shrug, and they are not pleased when a Ranger shows up, and even less pleased that a black Ranger has shown up. He’s not welcome by anyone, not even the people he’s ostensibly there to help. He has no reason to stay, no reason to put himself on the line for these people and this town, but he’s not going to give up until he figures out what happened to Michael and Missy, or his bosses force him out.
Lark, Texas is exactly what I think of when I hear “small Texas town”. It’s very small, only a few hundred people in fact, very insular, and very, very racist. However, that does not mean that Attica Locke has written it as a stereotype. The reason I can make a statement like that is that she has done an extraordinary job of drawing this town and its inhabitants. I could feel the heat, and almost smell the food Geneva was cooking at her place.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Darren is battling a lot of demons. He’s struggling with alcohol, separated from his wife, Lisa, and trying to decide what he’s going to do. He was in law school before joining the Rangers, and that’s a big part of the problems he and his wife are having. And it’s something he’s still struggling with. Does he want to stay a Ranger, and fight the system on the ground? Or does he want to go back to law school and fight the system from the other side? His wife wants him back in law school. She didn’t sign up to be married to a man who risks his life every day and she’s not hiding her feelings on the topic. We really don’t get much of Lisa in this book. We see a phone call or two between them, and Darren does think about her a lot, but that’s pretty much it.
This book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it’s very clear from the end that there will be a sequel. Based on the ending, I do recommend reading Bluebird, Bluebird first. I don’t think you’ll be lost if you skip it and jump right into Heaven, My Home, but reading this one will give you a deeper understanding of the characters and the setting, and your reading experience will be richer for it. Heaven, My Home has just come out, and I just picked it up from the library today. I’ll be reading it as soon as I can get to it, so keep an eye out for that review shortly.
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